The problem with touch screens

Dylan McCall dylanmccall at
Tue Sep 11 19:24:35 CEST 2007

The trouble withtactile feedback via buttons is that it arbitrarily limits
us in the applications that can be built. Designing a powerful and intuitive
piece of software comes down to how buttons are mapped, and it often becomes
horribly complicated with button combos and the like. Software using
physical buttons and designed for small screens is very confusing, since
there is generally not enough screen space for on-screen help.

The solution tends to be a very small tactile keyboard, and, frankly, I find
that even less intuitive. People can say all they want about tiny button
keyboards being usable, but in my opinion, they are both ugly and slow. They
also limit us in the usability of the device; A touch screen we can rotate
between Portrait and Landscape mode. If there was a mini keyboard involved,
that would be very difficult to design!
I do not think qwerty was ever intended for thumb typing, so it is no wonder
I find it so unintuitive. Far more intuitive is an on-screen keyboard using
auto completion, guided graphiti, or a messag-ease inspired layout.
Finally, I think a touch screen is a good choice for a platform designed to
grow smoothly as a home for new ideas in mobile interface design.

That isn't to say I think having a tactile keyboard, or some buttons, is a
/bad/ idea, though. I don't think the hardware should get in the way of
expandability, and I am driven crazy particularly when hardware makes
assumptions about the software it is built for. (Eg: The Windows key). I
also am strongly opposed to a device packing built in, permanent features
which are less than perfect. (For example, 1.5 megapixel digital cameras).
Let there be room for a portable Bluetooth keyboard; one that is designed to
be a usable keyboard, rather than a tiny button pad.

Okay, tactile feedback :)
I agree, it's a great thing to have. I always point people to the Nintendo
Wii as an example of tactile feedback done right. The input method is,
itself, very tactile compared to the use of a touch screen, since it is done
in three dimensions without the limitation of an artificial environment.
They did a great job of making the controller come to life just with a
speaker and a rumble feature -- both things we have available in the Neo.
In my opinion, the additional plastic bits that can be attached to the
controller (steering wheels, for example) are a disappointing departure from
what the controller is capable of. The whole point is that it makes
something out of nothing; it somehow feels like a baseball bat or a tennis
raquet just with basic functionality that is already there. No need to buy
an extra peripheral to make it become these things. It just works, like a
magic trick!

A random question, now: Does the Wii controller have multiple positions for
rumbling? I don't believe it does, but just wondering. That, I think, would
be a fantastic way to get more tactile feedback. Instead of a vibration just
being an abstract concept, it could actually be focussed to a particular
point. Thus, the tennis racquet would be vibrating on one particular end but
not much at the base, whereas a ping-pong paddle would give a more evenly
distributed effect.

Back to actually practical interfaces, I think tactile feedback by rumbling
can be a lot more interesting and attractive if it is not just "a rumble",
but a tightening up on the top left, or on the center of the device. Have to
keep in mind that the vibration has to be very slight to avoid damaging the
screen. I don't think a huge ammount is necessary; just a little hint is
enough for the illusion of added pressure. (After all, hands are very

-Dylan McCall

On 9/11/07, Simon <simon.xhz at> wrote:
> Some "screen protectors" could be made to have relief boundaries
> between all the buttons...  so you just stick you keyboard relief on
> the screen, close your eyes and write an email!
> If not then, lets forget about tactile sensations, those that look for
> that can buy usb/bt keyboards! (like I'm going to do)
> Simon
> On 9/11/07, Alexey Feldgendler <alexey at> wrote:
> >
> >
> > The point of the article is that touch screens lack the tactile feedback
> > that's inherent to physical buttons.
> >
> > I wonder if it's possible to simulate some of that feedback using the
> > vibrator built into Neo.
> >
> >
> > --
> > Alexey Feldgendler <alexey at>
> > [ICQ: 115226275]
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > OpenMoko community mailing list
> > community at
> >
> >
> _______________________________________________
> OpenMoko community mailing list
> community at
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